Surfing and The Gulf Petropocalypse


Here’s how you can help

by Terry Gibson

Over the past two weeks, Surfline has been closely monitoring the evolution of the oil spill caused by the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Wednesday, the situation deteriorated when an unmanned Rover ran into the containment cap, causing sufficient damage to require the cap be removed. BP claims that the cap was replaced successfully. Meanwhile, there are concerns about the integrity of the casing and the ground around it. If it blows, flows could increase to 110,000 barrels a day.

According to Bloomberg news service, drilling to intercept the leaking well and seal it permanently with mud and cement advanced yesterday, as engineers began a series of “ranging” tests to guide the drill to its target. That’s according to BP, which also says that the so-called relief well has reached 16,000 feet (4,876 meters) below the ocean surface and BP expects to plug the damaged well at 18,000 feet

Meanwhile, oil is flooding Louisiana’s coastal marshes, and has arrived at the coastal waters of Mississippi, Alabama and the Panhandle of Florida, down to Panama City Beach. Waters off Alabama beaches are closed. Perdido Pass, in Pensacola, has been boomed off during incoming tides to protect the delicate nurseries created by the rich coastal marshes.

“There are three things you don’t mess with: my family, my surf and my fish, and right now BP is messing with all three.”
–Shea Lopez

However, Emerald Coast Surfrider members say that by not closing the beaches or publicizing water quality data, officials are putting economic considerations before concerns for human health. They’re finding thick sheens of oil only two nautical miles offshore, and tar balls are numerous on the beach. (Check youTube. ) Meanwhile, officials in Okaloosa County have told the Coast Guard that they’re taking control, and have closed passes leading into their sensitive bay systems.

Beaches and other coastal systems to the south remain thus far unaffected. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suspended daily production of offshore Transocean/BP oil spill trajectory maps because a change in ocean currents has minimized impact risks to the Florida Keys and most of the Florida peninsula. That’s the good news.

But reports of disjointed response efforts are contributing to extremely high anger and frustration levels among the Gulf surfing community. Like every man, woman and child who is incensed by this disaster, Gulf Coast prodigy Shea Lopez is struggling over what to about this catastrophe. Audibly outraged, Shea Lopez told Surfline that, “There are three things you don’t mess with: my family, my surf and my fish, and right now BP is messing with all three.”

The Lopez brothers are the athletes that most embody Florida’s culture of watermen and women — folks intimately connected to the ocean personally and financially, through the soulful avocations of surfing, fishing and diving. Their personal and professional lives depend upon healthy beaches and clean water.

“It’s like not being able to defend yourself,” Shea said.

But he is, even though Lopez can’t confront this threat physically. Shea, understanding his own cultural significance, worked with Surfrider to create a cover photo for Surfrider’s Making Waves June issue, devoted to oil and energy issues. And he’s using his Facebook page to provide updates and political action opportunities. Meanwhile, family members have visited Washington to demand that Congress bring about a new, clean energy future, now.

“This spill has put us on the apex of a political tipping point,” said Surfrider’s Florida Regional Manager, Ericka D’Avanzo. “Our elected officials can do nothing and let us go over the falls head first, or establish a new system of ocean governance and energy independence that allows this country to trim out of this catastrophe. They won’t do the right thing unless you make them.”

There are small ways for volunteers to help mitigate the impacts of oil coming ashore in places as yet unaffected. Many conservation groups are asking watermen and women to turn their frustrations and outrage into large-scale, positive political action. One of the largest is Hands Across the Sand, a worldwide protest of offshore oil drilling on Saturday, June 26th.

Surfrider is recommending four courses of action.

1. Urge the Obama administration to demand more of a response at the spill site, and ask him to reconsider opening more coastal areas up for these types of catastrophes.

2. Surfrider’s Not the Answer.Org campaign has an online tool for tracking and reporting oil as it comes ashore. The Gulf Oil Spill Tracker allows you to assist in the monitoring and clean-up of this horrible catastrophe.

3. Florida State Legislators continue to hold back Governor Crist from calling a Special Session. The goal of the Special Session is a vote to put a ballot item on the 2010 elections. The proposed legislation would ban drilling within Florida state waters. Take action.

4. Report oiled wildlife at (866) 557-1401 and leave a message. To discuss spill related damage, please call (800) 440-0858. To report oiled shoreline or request volunteer information, please call (866) 448-5816.

Ocean Conservancy advises that citizens can help Ocean Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation and Skytruth hold BP accountable for the damage done to coastlines. The three organizations have partnered on the Gulf Oil Spill Tracker website Coastal residents can file reports and photos about clean and oiled beaches, wildlife, trash and other beach and shoreline conditions. Information is greatly needed both on baseline conditions before oil arrives and impacts afterwards. Download an app for your iPhone here. It’s a good idea to clean beaches of bottles, cans and food wrappers before oil arrives. Trash in the water and on the shoreline is hazardous once it is contaminated by oil, making cleanup more difficult, dangerous and expensive. Ocean Conservancy has created a Pre-oil arrival Guideline tool in PDF form and wants people to know that for the sake of safety, volunteers should only clean beaches free of oil.

Another way you can help is by volunteering during the 25th annual International Coastal Cleanup set for September 25 across the country and around the world. Information for this event can be found here: They add that it’s a good idea to start picking up trash.

The Pew Environment Group is demanding sweeping offshore energy reforms, and a National Ocean Policy with strong habitat conservation provisions. For more information, visit pewtrust then call your Congressman.

Most experts are advising communities to reach out to the non-profit community, especially to conservation-oriented groups, and establish training opportunities for volunteers. They emphasize the need for a coordinated approach. Oil and dispersants are toxic. And, especially on beaches, nesting turtles and shorebirds are threatened by unaware volunteers.

“The best thing you can do is get involved with Surfrider or another coastal conservation group, and tell the leadership you want to help,” said Ericka D’Avanzo, Surfrider’s Florida Regional Manager.

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